Mike Reynolds, of Taos, New Mexico builds passive solar houses made of natural and recycled materials, called Earthships. A documentary about these radically sustainable buildings, entitled "Garbage Warrior," discusses Reynold's process and his 17-year battle with the law.
Reynolds criticizes architecture for its lack of attention to building waste. As an alternative, the Earthship handles three systems: water, electricity, and climate, and is built from sustainable and reused materials and objects. Rainwater, snow, and condensation are collected into a WOM (water organization module) that filters contaminants and makes it suitable for common household water pressure via a pump.
Image via MNN
“Greywater,” the used water, passes through gravel, plant roots, and a peat-moss filter, and is used to flush toilets. “Blackwater,” or the water that has been used in the toilet, passes through a solar-enhanced septic tank, and is then channeled out to the landscape.
Photovoltaic panels and wind turbines generate energy stored in batteries located on the roof. A POW (power organizing module) is equipped with a circuit breaker and converters. Together they run household appliances such as washing machines, computers, kitchen appliances, and print machines.
Image via Low Tech Magazine
Since none of the electrical energy is used for heating and cooling, the interior climate is regulated by the properties of thermal mass and passive solar heating and cooling. Thermal mass is attained thorough its load-bearing exterior walls made from steel-belted tires. The high thermal mass of tires that are insulated with soil soak up heat during the day, keeping the interior climate comfortable all day and radiating heat at night.
Images via Wikimedia
An Earthship’s non-structural glass wall faces the equator. The solar-oriented wall is angled so that it is perpendicular to light from the winter sun and also doubles as a greenhouse with edible plants. Maximum exposure is granted in the winter, and less in the summer. For ventilation, an Earthship promotes natural convection cooling through vents. Cooler air comes in from a front window (“hopper”) and warm air blows out through one of the skylights.
Image via Energy Earth
Earthships must be built with “readily available sustainable materials.” They use extreme recycling, or everyday trash items, such as aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and previously mentioned earth-rammed tires. The load-bearing, earth-rammed tires are thermally wrapped with soil so that there is rigid insulation around the building. Non-load-bearing walls are made of a honeycomb of recycled cans joined by concrete, or “bottle-can masonry.”
Image via CS Gazette
In "Garbage Warrior," Reynolds describes one of his new homes, called the Phoenix: “There’s nothing coming into the house, no power lines, no gas lines, no sewage lines coming out, no water lines coming in, no energy being used … We’re sitting on 6,000 gallons of water, growing food, sewage internalized, 70 degrees year-round … what these kinds of houses are doing is taking every aspect of your life and putting it into your own hands. A family of four could totally survive here without having to go to the store.” Earthships cost about $225 per square foot. They come in many different models and sizes, and can also be customized.
Find out more about the assembly of Earthships below:
Top image via A List Calendar